Winter Storm Jonas - Weight of Ice and Snow, Wind and Flooding

If you live in the Northeast, anywhere from Virginia to New York City, you’ve undoubtedly spent this past weekend watching the snow pile up and then spent the rest of it shoveling yourself out. Winter Storm Jonas rocked the area and dumped record amounts of snow, caused significant flooding at the shore, and left at least fifteen (15) people dead.1

As my colleague Robert Trautmann pointed out in his blog post, Winter Storm Jonas Flood Victims - You Have 60 Days to File a Proof of Loss, the Jersey Shore suffered major flooding with several high tides during the storm causing multiple opportunities for rising flood waters to damage property. “Some areas had made it through the first high tides of the storm early on Saturday, only to be battered Saturday night by a second round of icy waves. Tides in some towns exceeded records set during Hurricane Sandy, with Cape May Harbor registering a high tide of 9.26 feet, about six inches higher than during Hurricane Sandy.”2 While flooding was a major issue for those on along the Coast, those inland are suffering Jonas’ wrath in different forms: the weight of ice and snow and wind storm damage.

On Saturday morning, I got myself up, had a cup coffee, donned my snowboarding attire and stepped outside into several feet of snow to try and begin the dig out process. But first, my dogs needed a small patched shoveled in the backyard for them for take care of business. With drifts well over four feet, it took a few minutes to get to the back yard. When I got there, I was surprised to see the following sight:

That’s a 40’+ pine that came down on my next door neighbor’s house. Luckily, it didn’t cause a tremendous amount of damage. It was a combination of significant winds and the weight of ice and snow that brought down this tree. The wind associated with Winter Storm Jonas was significant—gusts exceeded 70 mph up and down the eastern seaboard:

These extremely high winds in combination with heavy wet snow will bring down not only trees but power lines and roofs as well. The weight of the ice and snow become a problem immediately and can get worse if temperatures stay cold.

The weight of accumulated snow/ice, not the depth, is critical in assessing a roof’s vulnerability. The water content of snow may range from 3% for very dry snow to 33% for a wet, heavy snow, to nearly 100% for ice. An inch of water depth weighs 5.2 lbs. per square foot. Thus, a roof designed to carry a snow load of 20 lbs. per horizontal square foot is expected to support nearly 12 inches of wet, heavy snow.3

The violent winds will also increase the structures risk of failure:

It should be remembered that the snow load is only a portion of the total design load, which will include wind and dead loads. Dead loads are loads that account for the weight of the roof structure itself. While the total design load may be 2 to 4 times greater than the design snow load alone, the weight of the snow, if it exceeds the design snow load, may cause structural failure.4

Where temperatures stay relatively cold, you’ll have mild thawing during the day and re-freezing at night. This will create a layer of ice, and the weight of ice exceeds the weight of snow. The water content of ice is 92% and as noted about an inch of water depth weight is 5.2 lbs. per square foot. This increases the total load on a roof significantly. Here in New Jersey, at Trader Joe’s in Westfield, a roof collapse as a result of Winder Storm Jonas was all over the news:

If you have suffered a loss be it from flooding, downed trees or even a roof collapse, you should get in contact with a public adjuster as soon as possible to help assist you in making your claim. This storm wreaked havoc across the Northeast and it’s my guess we’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the coming days.

As always I’ll leave you with a (mildly) related tune, here’s one of my all-time favorites, Weezer, with My Name is Jonas:

4 Id.

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